Quotes from critics are a standard part of movie marketing. They show up in TV spots, on movie posters, and on Blu-ray packaging. They’re so commonplace that most of us barely notice them anymore. However, one writer for the AV Club certain did when he was erroneously cited on the DVD box for Accidental Love, a movie he despised, and he penned an angry letter about it to the production company.
When a two or three word pull is blasted across the screen in a trailer, you have to wonder about the context. It would be easy for a studio marketing department to find a few random words in an otherwise scathing review that, on their own, sound positive. This is exactly the situation AV Club writer and critic AA Dowd came upon when he was quoted as calling Accidental Love "a comedic masterstroke" on the back of a Canadian DVD, and he called out distributor Mongrel Media in a harsh open letter.
Technically, he did use the words "a comedic masterstroke" in his review. Taken on its own, that phrase sounds complimentary. It was not intended to be. Here’s what he actually wrote:
To be fair to whoever refashioned Accidental Love from the abandoned scraps of Nailed, there’s little reason to believe that the ideal, untroubled version of the material would have been a comedic masterstroke.
As part of his response to the usage of his words, Dowd elaborates on his opinion, saying:
Funny, I don’t remember calling the film "a comedic masterstroke." In fact, even "comedic" is a bit of a stretch; at best, one could say of Nailed that it approximates the general appearance of something attempting to elicit laughter.
For those of you not familiar, Accidental Love, or Nailed as it is known north of the border, is the "lost" David O. Russell movie that he filmed between I Heart Huckabees and The Fighter. The political comedy stars Jessica Biel and Jake Gyllenhaal, was written Al Gore’s daughter, and is reportedly so god-awful terrible that the American Hustle director took his name off of the film. There were budget cuts, production problems, and a whole laundry list of issues, and when it was finally cobbled together years later and released, critics brutalized the film (it currently has a 7% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences ignored the hell out of it.
Getting a quote on a piece of movie marketing is pretty cool (I’ve been quoted exactly once, and it was pretty cool), which Dowd freely admits. It means someone somewhere gives a shit what you thought of a movie. Congratulations, you matter. What he does, however, is decry the practice of studios and distributors seeking out any glimmering nugget, no matter the sea of feces around it, polishing it up, and using it to hawk their wares.
Such distortion is an unfortunately regular occurrence. It’s standard practice to ask permission from a writer to quote them, and while that does often happen, it’s not uncommon that you just find out with no prior knowledge. It also makes you think twice about any quote you see used for marketing purposes.
If you have a few minutes you should read Dowd’s open letter. He makes an eloquent, and funny, point about misrepresentation in marketing that is sure to come to mind next time you see a critics works used to sell a movie.